A controversial agreement on offshore oil drilling, reached last month by California legislators and the Interior Department, will protect 90% of the California coastline and nearly all of Santa Monica Bay until the year 2000, Rep. Mel Levine told a group of elected officials from local beach cities at Santa Monica City Hall on Thursday.
But Levine (D-Santa Monica), one of five California legislators who negotiated with Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel, said he is concerned that the agreement could fall through, leaving the entire coastline unprotected.
Oil industry officials are unhappy with the compromise and are "doing virtually everything they can to unravel the agreement," he said.
The agreement, reached on July 16, opens 150 tracts for oil exploration and protects the rest of the coastline until the year 2000. Each tract is nine square miles. Of the 150 tracts, 115 are in Northern California and 35 in Southern California. In Santa Monica Bay, there are 1 1/2 tracts off the Malibu coast and five near the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Broad Support Needed
If the agreement receives broad support from state and local officials, industry, labor and environmental representatives, it will be drafted into law by Congress, Levine said.
Besides Levine and Hodel, the negotiating group included Reps. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego) and Leon E. Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) and Sens. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) and Alan Cranston (D-Calif.).
Levine said the agreement is necessary because Congress would not have extended the moratorium on oil drilling protecting 57,000 square miles along the coast. Santa Monica Bay has been exempted from oil leasing since 1975.
"Had we brought the moratorium to a vote . . . it is my best guess that we would have come up short," Levine said.
He said the areas most sought by oil companies for exploration are off-limits under the agreement. He presented a map of the bay revealing oil company interest in many offshore areas in the bay, including tracts off the coast of Santa Monica, Malibu and Venice.
Areas for Exploration
Under the agreement, roughly 140 square miles south of Santa Monica Bay would be open for exploration, as well as another 100 square miles along the coast of Long Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach and 40 square miles offshore from Oceanside.
Levine said there will still be "strenuous efforts" to restrict oil drilling in the 150 tracts. He said those tracts will go through the normal leasing process, and "we will be in for a major fight in those areas that are not protected."
A regional official of the Sierra Club, Bob Hattoy, said that organization plans to try to delete as many tracts as possible from the 150.
Levine said he did not want drilling along any part of the coast but that the oil industry demanded certain areas as part of the compromise. He said there are parts of the agreement he does not like but that without it there would "be drilling up and down the coastline."
"At this point, if we unravel this agreement, we will have no protection," Levine said. "My intention is to go back to Washington and (work) to keep this agreement on track."